Play a little search engine roulette with the words “MLS” and “Referees” and it won’t take long to figure out what Peter Walton is up against.
Walton is the recently appointed head of North America’s Professional Referee Organization (PRO). He’s leading the efforts to improve performance of the men in the middle.
And, perhaps you’ve heard, most observers don’t think much of it. Performance, that is, from the men in the middle.
As a starting point, Walton disagrees. He says U.S. and Canadian referees aren’t that far from the desired standard. Perhaps the development of officials here has not kept pace with development of the game in general, Walton observes, but that can be remedied.
What he said on the latest MLS Extra Time podcast:
The referees we’ve got in North America are very good. And I think the competitive nature of our league is very good as well. What I am intending to do is matching up the refereeing ability to that of the paying side – you see great strides being taken with league, and with infrastructure and with the players – so that we advance at the same pace, and there is not a gap that develops or is developing. So, with a few tweaks and few little education activities in place … I don’t see the ‘challenge,’ as you put it, as being that great.”
Managing the general public expectations, on the other hand, does stand as a solid challenge, Walton concedes.
He says supporters here can’t expect the “light switch.” As in, he can’t walk into a room, flip a switch and make it all better. But with some planning and structure, he said, and some patience from beyond, he wants to have helpful programs in place by next season.
He also has clearly begun a sort of educational program for supporters.
“I don’t think our referees are not as bad as people perceive them to be,” he told Extra Time. “It’s just that they’ve been fed, hand fed, world class referees from abroad on their TV screen every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. That’s what my aim is. They will get the same, but it will take time.